I expect that, like me, many of you sat and watched the Queen deliver her traditional Christmas message at 3 PM yesterday, Christmas Day, on the television. I also suspect that, like me, many of you were disappointed not by what she said but by what she didn’t say. Nothing about her son Andrew’s latest propulsion into obscurity? No comment on Harry and Meghan’s absence from the Christmas celebrations at Sandringham? Zilch about Brexit, Trump, or anything else that has dominated the media all year? Well, as you know, I have a mole in Buckingham Palace who, in the past, has been able to record the conversations between the various Communication Secretaries who, secretly and anonymously, write the speech a week or so before its delivery by the Queen and, once again, my mole, more secret than anybody conjured up by the devious mind of John le Carré, has slipped me the transcript of the meeting. Here it is, unadulterated.
Minutes of the Meeting of the Royal Communications
16 December 2019, Buckingham Palace
Donal McCabe, Royal Communications Secretary
Julian Payne, Communications Secretary to The Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall.
Jason Knauf, ex-Communications Secretary to The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and The Duke and Duchess of Sussex
Apologies for absence:
Amanda Thirsk, ex-private secretary to Prince Andrew.
McCabe: Gentlemen, can we come to order? I’ve been asked to help prepare another Christmas message for her Maj to deliver on the 25th and need some help. Jase, thanks for joining us at such short notice. We know you no longer work as the New Fab Four’s Comms’ Sec but your advice will be invaluable, as always.
Gentlemen, please take a seat and let’s get started.
Knauf: I’m happy to assist, Donal. Thanks for inviting me.
McCabe: Okay. First and foremost, let’s get rid of the elephant in the room – Andy’s alleged indiscretions and subsequent banishment to the Outer Hebrides, or wherever he’s been sent. I had invited his ex-private-secretary, Amanda Thirsk, to attend and speak on his behalf but, unfortunately, she’s been sacked and thus is no longer entitled to attend our confab. She sent her apologies. Jason, what are your thoughts? Should her Maj make any mention of what’s happened to her number two son?
Knauf: Good Lord, no. No, no, no! He’s already damaged goods in the eyes of the Great British Public, those who willingly stump up every year through their taxes to keep the Royal Family in the manner to which they have become accustomed. No, let that sleeping dog lie: no pun intended, Donal.
McCabe: None taken, Jason. Julian, what do you think?
Payne: I agree with Jason, Donal. Less said the better. We don’t want anything besmirching the fine and noble reputation of the Queen.
McCabe: Okay, I get the message. What about Brexit? Brexit has dominated British politics for over three years now but after BJ’s resounding success last week, it looks as if, finally, Brexit will be done by the end of January next. What does the team think – should her Maj mention this in her message of hope and good cheer?
Knauf: Hmm, good question, Donal, and I do agree that the Brexit breakthrough, if I can call it that, is a major end-of-year achievement but, as you know, the Queen is forbidden to make any public statement of her views on politics and, to be honest, I suspect she’s now more worried about the breakup of the United Kingdom if that little rottweiler north of the border gets her way and manages to engineer a second referendum on Scotland’s continuing membership once Brexit is a done deed.
Payne: Wow, that’s one long sentence you just uttered there, Jason old boy. You hardly had room to take a breath!
Knauf: Yes, it was rather well constructed…
McCabe (interrupting): Gentlemen, gentle…men, we are not here to display the excellence of our grammatical skills. Let me remind you, we are…
Payne (interrupting): Sorry, Donal. Let’s move on.
McCabe (sarcastically): Thanks. It would seem as if Brexit is off the table as well then. What about Harry and Meghan? They’ve had a bumpy year what with media harassment and then deciding not to spend Christmas at Sandringham.
Knauf: Ah, that’s my old territory. I agree that H&M…
Payne (interrupting, laughing): Are you referring to the Swedish multi-national clothing-retail company?
McCabe (roaring with displeasure): Order, order! Oh, where is that berk Bercow when you want him? Jason, please continue.
Knauf: As I was saying… H&M have specifically asked me to make sure they are not mentioned in Grandmama’s Chrimbo speech. They want to live a simple life, away from media glare and are trying to play down speculation about M’s relationship, if any, with her father and sister. So, no mention of H&M in the message, please.
McCabe: Jeez, this is getting complex. What the hell can her Maj talk about? How about some recent heroics such as occurred at the knife attack on London Bridge…?
Payne (interrupting): Welby’s got that in his message.
McCabe (continuing): Damn! What about Trump then? The Donal with a double-D?
Payne (muttering quietly under his breath): Double-D? That’s his wife, I think.
Knauf: Holy crap, no! The man is tainted beyond all recognition. In no way can her Maj align herself to anything Trump says or does. He’s poison. Forget Trump.
McCabe: Hmm, rocks and hard places come to mind. Let’s take a break and let me think. Julian, be a dear and see if you can rustle up some more coffee, please.
McCabe (fifteen minutes later): Okay chaps, here’s my suggestion. We need to play it safe – history, religion, family, climate change, those kinds of things, but we need also to allude to some of the events that have preoccupied the Great British Public and that includes Brexit and Andy’s follies. So, here’s my suggestion. Let’s first build in a subliminal reference to happy families. Now what comes to mind when you hear the words ‘happy families’?
Payne: A card game, Donal?
McCabe: No! Babies, Julian, babies: the patter of tiny feet taking small steps in a loving home. Small steps. We must build those two words into the speech repeatedly to reinforce the image of a happy Royal Family expanding rapidly with – what is it? – eight great-grandchildren now?
Payne (interrupting): Jeez, they are breeding like bloody rabbits!
McCabe: Respect, Julian, respect! As I was saying, let’s make ‘small steps’ the theme of the speech and let’s also use the term to indicate a healing process for, particularly, the recent bad press about Andrew, the wayward prince.
Knauf: Brilliant, Donal, if I may say so. Also, I quite liked your reference to H&M’s bumpy year earlier. Perhaps we could fit in an oblique reference to a bumpy path which can be safely navigated and healed by taking small steps rather than giant leaps? We don’t have to elaborate on what the bumps in the path represent. The opinion writers will have a field day speculating – is it a reference to Andrew, to Brexit, to Trump, or to the price of fish? Who cares what they’ll write? Nobody will ever know what it means but it’ll make her Maj look powerful and wise.
Payne: Omnipotent and omniscient, a bit like God, eh?
McCabe: Precisely, Julian. Okay, I’ve got it. I think I can see a way forward. I’ll away and draft a first cut of the speech for you both to review later in the week. Thanks chaps. Enjoy the rest of the coffee and doughnuts. I’ve got work to do.
And so, McCabe and his team worked on the Queen’s 2019 Christmas message speech and, true to form, most of the speech covered the safe topics of history (the succesful Apollo 11 mission; D-Day, and what her father, King George VI, knew, and the reconciliations after WW2 ended), her burgeoning family of great-grandchildren (but with no mention of her own children or grandchildren, especially Andrew and Harry), an aside on climate change, and the usual religious stuff about Jesus Christ’s birth in Bethlehem and subsequent turbulent life. The last topic allowed her to talk about ‘long-held differences and deep-seated divisions’ along the path of reconciliation and ended with ‘The path, of course, is not always smooth, and may at times this year have felt quite bumpy, but small steps can make a world of difference.’
There you are: bumpy path and small steps in the same sentence. This instance of small steps was the fourth of five instances. Here are all five instances:
- In connection with Apollo 11: ‘It’s a reminder for us all that giant leaps often start with small steps.’
- In connection with reconciliations after D-Day: ‘Such reconciliation seldom happens overnight. It takes patience and time to rebuild trust, and progress often comes through small steps.’
- In connection with the life of Jesus Christ: ‘But in time, through his teaching and by his example, Jesus Christ would show the world how small steps taken in faith and in hope can overcome long-held differences and deep-seated divisions to bring harmony and understanding. Many of us already try to follow in his footsteps. The path, of course, is not always smooth, and may at times this year have felt quite bumpy, but small steps can make a world of difference.’
- In connection with the message of Christmas: ‘And, as we all look forward to the start of a new decade, it’s worth remembering that it is often the small steps, not the giant leaps, that bring about the most lasting change.’
Enjoy your small steps along the bumpy path.
The account above is clearly a work of fiction. I made it up. In reality, it is claimed that the Queen writes her own Christmas message rather than rely on her public communications team. If this is true and if she really did build in the subliminal messages I unearthed, then I take my hat off to her. Odd’s bodkins; if I wore a crown, I’d even take that off.
You can read the full text of her 907-word 2019 Christmas message here. Have fun and my best wishes for 2020.